Tag Archives: Baltimore

A Baltimore cookie drama, in two acts

Act I: In a widely read Nov. 15 piece in Atlas Obscura, Priya Krishna reports on “the quest to save Baltimore’s Berger Cookie,” a beloved local food institution. “One of the most essential ingredients in the Berger Cookie is trans fats. Trans fats are what make the chocolate super creamy, prevent the fat and the water in the dough from separating (which would yield an overly crumbly cookie), and keep the cookie stable in both very warm and very cold settings.” However, the Obama administration enacted a federal ban on trans fats — for your own good, you know — which goes into effect next year.

Cookie producer Charlie DeBaufre, interviewed by Krishna, “refers to the past year as ‘frustrating and scary,’ as so many of his trans fat-free experiments have been failures. ‘I have spent $10,000 trying to get this worked out. I am not a big business. I don’t have an R&D Department. I have to shut down production for a few hours, still pay people for labor, and then most of the product gets trashed. It’s tough.’” More background in a piece I wrote for Cato last week.

Act II: Then a twist, reported by Sarah Meehan in the Baltimore Sun Nov. 21: the fudge supplier had managed to replace trans fats months ago and didn’t tell Berger’s. While early attempts to reformulate fudge frosting without trans fats had suffered from various quality defects, the new recipe was much improved to the point where neither consumers nor Berger’s had noticed.

So a happy if unexpected ending, at least for this one company, right? But the regulatory downside — you just knew there had to be one — was that in changing its recipe the fudge supplier had added more sugar, which appears to have boosted the calorie count and might have changed other things reported in the Nutrition Facts box as well. Since Berger’s says it didn’t know about the new formula, one inference might be that for a while it has been shipping cookies with a faulty calorie/nutrition count on the package. Hello to class action woes and, if the FDA is in a bad mood, regulatory liability? [cross-posted from Overlawyered]

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In miniature, December 9

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In miniature, November 19

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Baltimore’s DOJ police consent decree

Yesterday the city of Baltimore signed a 227-page consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice putting the city’s police department under wide-ranging federal control for the indefinite future (earlier).

The decree (document; summary of high points) mingles some terms that rise to genuine constitutional significance with others that no court would have ordered, and yet others that appear not to be requirements of the law at all, but at most best practices. Many are virtually or entirely unenforceable (“professional and courteous” interaction with citizens). Whether or not the decree results in the less frequent violation of citizens’ rights, it is certain to result in large amounts of new spending and in the extension of the powers of lawyers working for various parties.

In November David Meyer Lindenberg of Fault Lines, the criminal justice website, wrote this opinion piece about the failure of DoJ police reform consent decrees to live up to the high claims often made for them (more: Scott Shackford, Reason). Our consent decrees tag traces the problems with these devices in a variety of public agencies such as those handling children’s and mental health services, as well as the budgetary rigidity they often impose.

Since Congress passed enabling legislation in 1994 in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating, the Washington Post and Frontline reported in a 2015 investigation, “Twenty-six [police] investigations — a little more than half of them since President Obama took office — have led to the most rigorous outcome: binding agreements tracked by monitors. More than half were consent decrees, meaning they were approved and managed in federal court.” As of that point only Ohio, at 4 agreements, had had more than Maryland, at 3.

This 2008 report from the Alabama Policy Institute by Michael DeBow, Gary Palmer, and John J. Park, Jr. takes a critical view of the decrees’ use in institutional reform litigation (not specifically police), and comes with a foreword by Sen. Jeff Sessions, now the nominee to replace Loretta Lynch as Attorney General of the U.S. Speaking of which, there’s something so weird about some liberals’ eagerness to hand the keys to big-city police departments over to Mr. Sessions. It’s as if they think once Main Justice is calling the shots it won’t think of using that leverage on issues like, say, sanctuary cities.

[cross-posted from Overlawyered. Note also Reuters’ new investigation of police union contracts, and related coverage in the Baltimore Sun (McSpadden case), Ed Krayewski/Reason (three years to fire misbehaving cop), and more Sun (deadly effects of police slowdown)]

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In miniature, January 4

  • May 2015 work slowdown by Baltimore police may have led to long-term higher crime rate [Daniel Bier/FEE, Alex Tabarrok/Marginal Revolution] “11 Incredible Findings from the Report on Baltimore PD” [Bier, FEE]
  • Claim: lawmakers can “give” private employees paid parental leave and “there’s no added cost to employers” [Kate Ryan, WTOP citing views of Montgomery County, Maryland council member Tom Hucker]
  • Irony alert: Get-money-out-of-politics measure passes 53-47 in Howard County after backers outspend foes 10-1 [Len Lazarick, Maryland Reporter]
  • “FBI fingerprinting for Uber and Lyft in Maryland would do more harm than good” [Washington Post letter to editor from Arthur Rizer, R Street Institute]
  • “Economist: Baltimore Minimum Wage Bill Punishes Small Business Growth” [Connor Wolf]
  • Major overhaul of state contracting proposed, along with hundreds of changes to regulations [Maryland Reporter]

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LEOBR reform not going well this session

Supposed reforms to Maryland’s notorious Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR) law could leave police unions with even more power than now [Washington Times, Washington Post] ACLU of Maryland report on how the law, along with the Baltimore police union contract, serve as obstacles to officer accountability [press, more] Last year, the filing of charges in the Freddie Gray case “enraged the police rank and file, who pulled back” from arrests and engagement with lethal consequences for the Baltimore crime rate; but was the work-to-rule really based on a well-founded fear of being prosecuted over good police practice? [Richard Oppel/New York Times, NYT “Room for Debate” and more, Alex Tabarrok/Marginal Revolution]

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My letter in the Washington Post on Baltimore evictions

I’ve got a letter to the editor in today’s Washington Post. An excerpt:

The Dec. 11 Metro article “Baltimore eviction rate among highest in nation” reported on advocates’ efforts to change eviction procedures to allow Baltimore tenants to stay longer in rental housing even when they fail to pay their rent. One effect, of course, would be to make it even less attractive to offer and maintain rental properties in the hard-hit city.

Before going farther down such a road, it would help to review failures of existing Maryland housing policies….

And then I talk about Maryland lawmakers’ having enacted various legal changes to slow down foreclosures, and the unpleasant aftermath, a story told here. Why would a state want to go through a very similar wasteful, blight-encouraging exercise for rental property?

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“Efforts to label the riots an ‘uprising’…”

“…will strike the same voters as hopelessly out of touch (read: insane).” [David Lublin, The Seventh State (“Democrats Must Address Baltimore or Drown Politically in the Undertow”)]

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In miniature, June 18

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Cut Baltimore property taxes

For any real chance for Baltimore to bounce back economically, you need to cut its high property taxes. Reihan Salam argues the case, drawing on work by Stephen Walters (Loyola Maryland) and others. As a percentage of value Baltimore’s property taxes are not as extraordinarily high as Detroit’s, but in both cities the tax has contributed to severe problems of property abandonment.

From a Facebook discussion, Bruce Godfrey:

One other effect of Baltimore city’s high property taxes is the disproportionate concentration of nonprofit organizations in the city. These nonprofits are exempt not only from income taxes on their operations, but every asset they own is exempt from the state real estate and personal property taxes, which are more than twice those of the county surrounding it.

More: Lengthy new piece on Baltimore abandonments by Washington Post reporter Terrence McCoy never mentions property taxes. So they must not be a problem!

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